Synagogue Swastika Incident Exposes Gap In Jewish Federation Security Outreach
A lack of surveillance cameras that could have caught a swastika artist in the act outside the Chevra Mishnayes congregation back door, may have been caused by a breakdown in communication from the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.
After news broke that a garbage bin got spraypainted with the Nazi logo, it was an obvious question to ask about footage from any cameras watching the synagogue.
Marshall Kneller, the president of Chevera Mishnayes, who said his wife Laya was first to spot the swastika at 5.30 PM on Thursday March 5 , and that the topic of increasing protection for the Garden City sanctuary had been a recent topic with the Board.
The federal government had alloted increased funding for improving security at Jewish buildings to guard against antisemitic attacks, yet the shul had not been informed through formal channels.
"New and Improved!" as of June 1, 2019, the SIP pays up to $35,000 for physical infrastructure upgrades and security enhancements for doors, windows, intercoms and public address systems, as well as minor renovations to enhance security.
It is generally understood that responsibility for organizing the safety of Jewish institutions falls on the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, but when asked if Federation or its security arm CIJA had spoken with the Chevra Mishnayes about security funding before the incident, Kneller replied they had not and "we were pro-actively looking into (improving security after) it was raised at the Board level" by a Board member, who alerted the Directors Meeting about the federal monies.
Federation CEO Elaine Goldstine said she believed that all Winnipeg synagogues had been contacted about the $35,000 opportunity and when told of Kneller's statement expressed surprise.
"That's very interesting ... I don't know when they were contacted ... we try to remind people but sometimes the emails, sometimes things fall through the cracks."
She was unaware of any follow-ups made about the available security funds and said she would pass the question about outreach to CIJA local representative Adam Levy, who did not contact TheJ.ca last week.
Goldstine said Federation had been informed of the swastika incident and she praised city police and the Hate Crime Unit for their response. "We have found the police have been really pro-active. When they get the call (about antisemitic incidents) they deal with it."
In between alerting the city police and Federation, the shul was called by B'nai Brith.
"We reached out to the synagogue to gather all of the details and to encourage the synagogue to reach out to police and provide any information they could. Fortunately, the synagogue had taken that step already," said Ran Ukashi, National Director of the League for Human Rights. "The reality is that there is always a cause for concern when a swastika is found daubed on a synagogue or any Jewish institution. The plain meaning of the symbol in that context is offensive in and of itself. However, while such incidents are not at all unheard of in Winnipeg, as I personally remember synagogues being vandalized with swastikas and other graffiti throughout my life in Winnipeg. While even one incident is too "frequent," in terms of this being a daily, weekly, monthly, or even annual problem, it is fortunate that this is not a frequent occurrence in Winnipeg."
Kneller echoed that sentiment, lumping this as more a prank, with 2 or 3 other antics in the last 15 or so years and not reflective of a change to acceptance of Jews in the north end suburb.
"This is not going to deter us ... for us it's important to address it", Kneller added, noting receiving a heartfelt email from the Garden City Residents Committee and the longtime relationship with the apartment block residents next door who "look out for our well being, they're very good to us." In his youth, Ukashi's family were members of the Chevra Mishnayes, and he remembers the neighbours helping the congregation.
But he was surprised when he learned from Kneller that his old shul still hadn't installed surveillance equipment.
"We made them aware of the existence of the federal Security Infrastructure Program through Public Safety Canada which provides funding for community security investments. We mentioned that the synagogue should consider applying for such funding and that we would be more than willing to provide a letter of support for their application."
Antisemitic incidents continue to escalate in Winnipeg and across Canada.
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